Potato chip crumbs fell through the air and into the crevices that were the spaces between John’s toes. Sam the dog, who had been sitting nearby eagerly waiting for this moment, seized the opportunity and swiftly snaked his tongue through the soft fissures to retrieve the tasty morsels. John ignored the feeding frenzy on the floor and continued to watch the glowing screen in front of him as he shoved more chips into his mouth.
“Oh my–! John, what the Hell? You’re making a mess everywhere!”
Lucy ambled into the room and found herself immediately repulsed by the sight on the couch. With a disgusted look, she shooed Sam away with a swift pat on the butt. He reluctantly left his post, licking his lips unsatisfactorily as he settled into his bed in the corner of the room.
“John, what have I told you about eating on the couch?”
Without averting his eyes from the screen, John shrugged. Lucy tapped her foot impatiently and waited for a comeback, but to her dismay, only heard the sound of obnoxious crunching. Boiling with anger, Lucy reached for the remote resting in her husband’s lap, but quickly discovered the attempt was unsuccessful as John smacked her hand away. Tension filled the air as the two stared at each other with contempt. Lucy took a deep breath.
“John. Can you please do something today?”
“I am doing something.”
“You know what I’m doing.”
“No…no, I don’t. Please enlighten me as to what you are doing.”
John shifted the chip bag resting in his lap with irritation as he shot a glare up at his wife.
“I’m relaxing and enjoying the program on TV. I can do that on my days off, can’t I?”
“You’ve been flipping through the channels for the past two hours.”
“Don’t you want to go out and do something? Maybe we could go get lunch, enjoy a nice bike ride, or even take Sam for a walk. Something. Anything.”
Reluctance painted John’s face as he paused to consider the proposition, but then quickly brightened when an idea popped into his head.
“Alright, how about you order a pizza and come watch a show with me?”
Lucy’s face fell as the suggestion left the couch potato’s mouth. She crossed her arms over her chest and turned away from him in an attempt to avoid revealing the frustration and sadness that had contorted her face.
“Luce? Does that sound alright?”
Consumed with frustration, Lucy straightened up and quickly strode over to a table with a worn, wooden photo frame propped up on it. She hastily extended a hand to grab the photo, but suddenly became slow and careful as her fingers grazed the edge of the frame. A younger version of the couple sat inside a cramped boat, with Sam the jubilant puppy between them. A blanket of luminous diamonds crested the surface of the surrounding lake, graced by the sun’s radiant rays on that bright summer day. Lucy began to tremble slightly as she stared down at the photo and slowly shuffled back to the couch.
“John…John, do you remember this day?”
The gentle splashing of water against the long-forgotten boat echoed faintly. She paused in front of the couch and then handed the photo to John, who hesitated before cautiously accepting the relic.
“Sure I do, Luce. Why wouldn’t I?”
Lucy took a seat next to her husband and gently clasped his free hand in hers. The laughter of the young couple rang out from a distant memory as their fingers tangled together.
“Do you remember how happy we were? Even Sam…I don’t remember a day as joyful as this since the picture was taken. Do you?”
John shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The faint recollection of a puppy barking with glee came and went.
“Are you trying to say that we’re not happy anymore?”
Lucy’s eyes bored into John with a new-found intensity.
“John, please just answer the question.”
John stared hard at Lucy, mouth agape. A few moments passed in silence as the man fumbled for words. Suddenly, without warning, he slammed the picture down onto the coffee table and became rigid in his seat. Startled by the sudden action, Lucy released his hand. The photo frame stared up at them somberly with a fresh crack snaked across the glass.
“Lucy, we’re happy. Things are just…different, now. We’re not as young as we used to be. Now that we’re older, things have changed. We have responsibilities. I work. A lot. You know this. So what if I want to come home and relax? I just don’t have the energy for anything anymore. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. So, please, join me. Let’s watch some TV. Let’s get lost for a little while.”
John opened his arms to receive her, but the pitiful invitation smothered every hope Lucy had held on to. A deafening smash rang briefly in their ears as the boat they had once sailed in crashed with a jolt. Lucy’s soul plummeted to the darkest pits of her being, and the world took on a canopy of gloom. Unable to form a response, she rejected his appeal and sank into the back of her chair. The dejected woman’s face darkened as she stared off into space while John watched on dumbly, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with each passing moment. The air was heavy with adversity when Lucy finally broke the silence.
“John, I don’t mind getting lost in a story. In fact, I love the idea of it and it’s what I want more than anything else. But I don’t want to get lost in someone else’s tale. I don’t want to be told a crappy narrative by some television show day in and day out. I want to get lost in our own, private, personal journey as we live it. I want to create a story, with you.”
John, speechless, stared at his wife with glossy eyes. At a loss, he turned away from her to be alone, together. Feelings of embarrassment and hurt suddenly settled in, and he quickly fumbled for the remote in his lap. Once found, the volume on the television quickly ascended. Defeated, John sagged into the couch and stared at the screen blankly.
“So…we’re done here? You have nothing else to say?”
Lucy stared at her husband with desperation. The man refused to look at her. The broken woman nodded quickly several times in agitated understanding.
“Yeah, okay. I guess we’re done here,” her voice shook as she rose from the couch.
Chain links clacked together furiously as Lucy removed Sam’s leash from the hanging rack by the front door. Sam was immediately at her side, and more than willing to allow his master to tether him to the thin cord. Gray clouds hovered in the view of the kitchen window, warning Lucy to come prepared. As a precaution, Lucy grabbed a light jacket from the coat rack as she pulled Sam along.
“We’re going out,” Lucy mumbled flatly as she opened the door and exited the house.
John continued to stare at the TV with wide, desolate eyes as heavy tears rolled down his cheeks.
Water quickly rushed into the sinking boat. It seemed that drowning was imminent.
A few hours later, the front door of the house opened. Lucy and Sam stepped into the home, drenched from head to toe from the showering rain outside. Lucy stripped off her jacket while the dog shook his whole body in an attempt to rid the moisture from his copper fur coat. Seeing that his family had arrived, John quickly jumped off the couch to greet them.
“Hey, Lucy, I’m so glad you’re home! …I have a surprise for you.”
Lucy stared at John quizzically. He held up a finger to signal that he needed a moment, and then excitedly disappeared into the next room. Lucy shook her head dismissively as she bent down to release Sam from the leash. After shuffling around behind a door, John quickly reentered the living room holding a large cardboard box. With a grin, he set the conundrum down on to the coffee table eagerly. Lucy straightened up and stared at the box with disinterest.
“Well?” John beamed enthusiastically, rolling back and forth on the balls of his feet.
“Don’t you want to know what it is?”
Lucy shrugged and took a seat on the couch. Disinterested, she proceeded to focus her attention on removing the soggy shoes and socks from her feet. Unwilling to be discharged so soon, John zealously opened the cardboard box and reached inside. He struggled to loosen the hidden contents from the packaging within, but was able to pull out the mysterious items with some added effort. With a flourish, he set two peculiar looking helmets down on to the coffee table next to the box. Proud of his treasure, he stood akimbo before his wife in accomplishment. Lucy furrowed her brow at the reveal.
“What’s so great about helmets, John? It’s not like you ever partake in any activities that require them.”
“They’re not helmets- well, yes, they are- but they’re much more than that.”
“Well, then I have no idea what I’m looking at.”
“That’s fine. I’ll show you.”
John grabbed one of the helmets and placed it over his head, and then offered the remaining enigma to Lucy. Wearily, she took the headgear in her hands but made no motion to wear it.
“Well, go on, give it a try!”
“Not until you tell me what it is, John.”
The fragile man’s smile faltered briefly, but was quickly recovered before the slip could be detected. He cleared his throat uncomfortably, and then continued on confidently.
“This, my dear wife, is a virtual reality helmet. It will allow us to explore the world, and beyond, in the comfort of our own home. It creates an experience within the mind. We can do anything, and be anything. We can even slow down time. We can create new memories together, and continue to experience life without any of the risks, consequences, or discomforts of the real world. It’s just what you wanted, Lucy. We can create our story.”
The morose woman gawked at John in disbelief. Tortured features slowly carved out her face as the realization of what this pitiful man was trying to offer sunk in. Fed up, an angry cry escaped from Lucy as she slammed the helmet down on to the coffee table. The broken picture frame, still resting on the table from it’s morning abuse, rattled from the impact. Outraged, she shot up from the couch.
“You think this is what I wanted?! To be lulled in to some false sense of reality?”
Startled, John took a few steps back.
“Lucy, didn’t you hear what I was saying? We can create a story together! Don’t you see? This is exactly what we need in our lives! We can live again!”
Lucy shook her head several times as tears streamed down her face in quick succession. Standing her ground, she pointed a finger accusingly at John.
“This, thing, that you’ve described…it’s bullshit. It’s no way to live. I like knowing that there are risks and consequences. That’s the point of living. I wish you could understand that. This is not what I wanted. I will never want this, John- not ever. I want you. But I also want to live. And it seems like you just aren’t interested in that.”
“I’m not done!” Lucy quickly interjected. She crossed her arms and began to pace the room as she continued to speak.
“Sam and I went for a walk. And we went back to the lake…the last place where we were really happy. I was hoping that I could find something there, something that could help me remember what made it so special. I came across some teenagers in the woodsy parts not too far off from the shoreline. They had this rope, a slack line I think they called it, tied from one tree to another. It looked like a tight rope. They started it off by keeping it pretty low to the ground. All the kids went across it, one by one, each slightly frightened by the possibility of falling, but equally thrilled by it. It was amazing to watch. Little by little they brought the rope up higher and higher off the ground, increasing the challenge. As scared as they were, they continued to push themselves. I envied them.”
Lucy stopped pacing and narrowed her eyes. John shivered with apprehension.
“That’s what I need, John. I need to be challenged. I need to keep pushing the limits and reaching for higher ground. I can’t stay stagnant like this anymore.”
John slowly removed the helmet from his head and locked his eyes to the floor. A reticent tear raced down the bridge of his nose and barreled to the ground.
“Lucy…I am really, really, trying here. I don’t know how to give you what you want. Won’t you at least try it? For us? I’m doing my best to find a compromise. I don’t want to lose you….I can’t lose you.”
John extended an arm sheepishly and offered his helmet.
“Lucy…please?” a quivering voice escaped from the crushed shell of a man.
Lucy stared at the helmet coldly.
“No, John. I don’t want it.”
Unable to restrain himself, John began to tremble as a slew of hurt and confusion spilled out of him and into the room.
“How do you know it doesn’t have what you need? You don’t know! You won’t even try. Lucy, this could save us! Isn’t that worth a shot?”
With a sigh, Lucy closed her eyes and brought a hand to her forehead.
“You want a compromise, John?”
“I’ll try the damn helmet if you come with me out to the lake and walk across the rope.”
“You heard me. You want us to compromise? You want us to stay together? Show me. Prove it to me. I need to know that you really want this. Us.”
John broke out into a sweat as the last word of the ultimatum was uttered. With the helmet clutched tightly to his chest, every possibility that the situation posed swirled around in his mind. He stood in awkward silence for several moments, until a sly smile inched across his face. Like a bobble, he nodded his head vigorously in agreement.
“Yeah…yeah, okay. Okay, Lucy. Let’s do it. But let’s go tomorrow. It’s pouring, and the sun has already set. Is that acceptable?”
Lucy stood with an astonished look on her face.
“So…you’ll do it?”
“Yes, Lucy. I’ll do it.”
The woman examined John with incredulous eyes.
“Yeah…okay. I’ll believe it when I see it. But fine. Let’s go tomorrow.”
The laughter of the young couple from past days tinkled faintly in the distance. With a small cache of hope, the pair headed off to bed.
The next day the couple found themselves in the woods not too far off from the lake. Lucy led the way, working off of memory to find the location of the challenge that awaited them.
“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” John questioned as he peered at each towering tree they passed.
“Yes, I know where I’m going…have a little faith in me, will you?”
John smiled grimly.
“I could say the same to you, darling.”
Lucy chose to ignore the remark as they trekked on. The path was not one that had been traversed much, for lush vegetation covered the ground they journeyed across. The trees seemed to increase in height the deeper they traveled, and the spacing between the plants became narrower with each step.
“We’re almost there…” Lucy muttered.
After climbing over a slew of low bushes and pushing aside several bothersome branches, Lucy smiled as the destination they had been seeking materialized before her.
John followed closely behind, and quickly discovered the small clearing that marveled his wife. John peered around the site and was relieved to find no signs of imminent danger.
“Okay…so where’s this tight rope? I’m guessing those teenagers took it home.”
Lucy laughed and shook her head.
“You wish, John.”
Without shifting her attention away from her clueless companion, Lucy pointed a finger up towards the top of the trees. John followed the direction of her finger and then gasped at the sight. A thin, white rope hung between two very old, tall trees, at least one hundred feet off the ground.
“Lucy, this is just reckless. I’m sure you plan on lowering it…?”
Lucy shook her head once again.
“No. We’re doing this as it is.”
“This is crazy. Have you even tried this before?”
“No. But that’s what makes it exciting.”
“This is insanity.”
“Do you love me?”
“Do you love me, John?”
“Yes. Why would you question that?”
“Then please, let’s do this together. Trust me. Let’s be reckless for once. Just quit thinking.”
John glared at the rope. The very thought of teetering on that thin line of uncertainty made him nauseous. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked back to his wife, who was staring at him with hope in her eyes.
John nodded his head and sighed.
“Lead the way, Luce.”
Hand-in-hand, Lucy led the way towards the nearest tree. Invitingly, a rope ladder hung loosely off the massive trunk. John motioned for Lucy proceed before him.
Lucy chuckled as she grabbed the fist rung of the ladder within reach, and quickly climbed her way to the top. John stood on the grassy floor and monitored her anxiously until she finally stood a hundred feet off the ground, hugging the ancient tree.
“Are you afraid?” John yelled up at her.
“Yes!” She shot back.
“Do you want to come down?”
John stood in silence and looked on with appreciation at the crazed beauty. She flashed a radiant smile that stretched from ear to ear.
“Okay, John…I’m going to do this now.”
Lucy turned her body towards the opposite tree that stood twenty feet across from her. With a deep breath, she released the first tree from her tight embrace. Arms stretched out to her sides like a bird, Lucy managed to find her balance. With another deep breath, she took her first step. Cautiously, slowly, and gently, she lifted and lowered each foot from one position to the next. With five steps down, the rope wobbled slightly under her weight. She froze. Her muscles stiffened for fear of falling.
Terror overtook John, and he quickly positioned himself underneath his teetering wife. If she were to fall, he wanted to be there to catch her. Lucy chuckled as she watched him flutter around like a drunk hummingbird out of her periphery.
Within a few moments the rope leveled out, allowing her to walk again. She took several more steps, quickly closing the distance between her and the final destination. Excitedly, she recklessly quickened her pace when she suddenly lost her footing. Lucy’s body began to plummet towards the ground, forcing a horrible scream out of her panicked husband. Despite the harrowing moment of certain disaster, a swift hand caught the rope. Lucy dangled precariously over the clearing.
John sprinted towards the second tree while Lucy grabbed the rope with her free hand. Being in close proximity to the second tree, she swung her hips at it, and was able to latch her legs around half of the trunk. Quickly, she slid her hands across the rope and pulled her weight as close to the tree as she could. Without hesitation, she released the rope and wrapped her arms around the trunk. Her whole being safely clung to the rough bark. Inching around the girth of the tree, Lucy grabbed a hold of the ladder. John anxiously climbed up to meet her, but hopped off when he realized that Lucy had already begun her descent.
She stepped off the last rung of the ladder and gently planted both feet on the ground. John grabbed her roughly and pulled her into a tight embrace.
“Thank goodness you’re alright.”
Startled, Lucy slowly brought her arms up around him. A smile cracked her face as light, joyful tears trickled down her cheeks.
“I don’t remember the last time you were this emotional, John.”
“I told you…I don’t want to lose you.”
She nodded her head.
“Okay….I want to believe you. It’s your turn.”
John released her and took a step back.
“You still want me to do this?”
She nodded her head.
“It’s terrifying, John, but exhilarating. I’ve never felt so alive. I think you need this as much as I do.”
John stood dumbfounded as he analyzed her features. It was clear that she was telling the truth. She had never looked so vibrant and spirited.
“Okay, Lucy. For you.”
John turned towards the nearest tree and climbed his way up the ladder. Once at the top, he clung to the tree as Lucy had and took a deep breath.
“It’s alright, John. It’s okay to be scared!”
He peered down at his smiling wife on the ground.
With another deep breath of air, he launched into his first step. With eyes straight ahead he refused the temptation to look down. Step after step he quickly closed the gap between him and his destination. Before he knew it, he was clinging to the second tree.
“Oh my God, John, that was brilliant!”
Now safely pinned to something stable, John allowed himself to look around. Somehow, he had made it to the other side with no complications. A huge sigh of relief escaped him.
“Okay…yeah. Yeah, I’m alright! I did it! Luce, I did it!”
“I know, John! Now come down here and give me a kiss!”
John quickly climbed down the rope ladder and scooped Lucy up in his arms as they exchanged passionate kisses.
“Oh John, I was so worried. I was so afraid that you had given up on us, that you were no longer in love with life….”
John set her down and put a hand to her cheek.
“Lucy, I’m in love with you. And I would do anything for you.”
She nodded vigorously.
“Yes, I know that now. Thank you.”
With a smile, John reached for Lucy’s hand as they trekked back towards their house.
It did not take long for them to make it back home. Sam bounded across the house playfully, yipping happily, for he sensed a change in the air. It was as if he were welcoming home long lost friends. Lucy and John set to work in the kitchen to prepare dinner together, and chatted like they used to. The feelings of the young couple were making a resurgence. They could feel it.
Warm smiles were exchanged as they sat down to eat. In the middle of a laughing fit stirred up by a joke, Lucy suddenly remembered her end of the bargain.
“Alright, John. When do you want me to try that helmet out of yours?” she took a swig of wine and eyed him jocularly.
With food in his mouth, John shook his head and waved a hand dismissively.
“Don’t worry about it, Luce,” he replied after hastily swallowing a large bite.
“What? Are you sure?”
John nodded casually.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it. Maybe another day. Right now, I think we’re doing alright.”
A small smile crept across Lucy’s face.
“I think you may be right.”
Before they knew it, night had crept up on them, bringing a close to the exciting day.
They both shuffled into their room, exhausted with the recent events, Sam trailing behind them. The couple exchanged another passionate kiss before falling into bed and allowing sleep to take over.
Within moments of the first stage of slumber, John suddenly sat up in bed with a gasp. One of the helmets sat snuggly on his head. He quickly ripped off the head gear and turned towards Lucy, who still laid in bed with her own helmet securely fastened. He worked rapidly but cautiously to remove the headset from his wife, making every effort to avoid waking her. Having successfully removed the virtual reality gear, he hurriedly got out of bed and hid the two helmets in the closet.
He returned to the bed quietly, for they had just gone to bed moments ago. With a sigh of relief, John reveled ecstatically in the knowledge that his plan had worked. Lovingly, he brought a hand up to brush away a stray hair that rested upon Lucy’s lips.
“Oh, Lucy…I do love you, with all of my heart. And I will do anything to keep you. We’ll create a story together, just like you’ve always wanted.”
Cool breeze blew in the night as the boat sailed on once again.